Friday, April 27, 2012

Hugo Nominated Short Stories

I don't have a book review this week, as I have been reading more short fiction to re-acquaint my mind with the short form for my current project. So here are some thoughts on the stories nominated for this year's Hugo Award by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America:

1) The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees  by E. Lily Yu

The story is about wasps who inscribe tiny, intricate maps in their paper nests, and the consequences when the humans around them discover the maps existence. A colony of wasps moves to another location, already inhabited by a hive of bees, who are essentially enslaved by the stronger wasps.

But that is far too simple a synopsis. The story touches on slavery, anarchism, survival, and many other topics, all framed in the societies of insects. The writing is lyrical and strong, and there is a depth here that isn't often seen in a short story. It is well worth the short time it takes to read, and should stay with you after.

2) The Homecoming  by Mike Resnick

 This is a story about families and the often complex interrelationships that make them up. A long absent son returns home to visit his mother, who has severe dementia. The catch is that the son chose to change himself dramatically eleven years prior in order to pursue his own life, and his father has never forgiven him. The father reacts as expected, and the son fails once again in his attempt to explain. It is in the interaction between the very different son and his confused mother that the real growth of understanding begins to take place.

This story is written in first person, from the father's point of view: brusque, no-nonsense, and practical. Still, there is an undercurrent of emotion that pulls you in to the story. Despite his curt appearance, it is obvious he loves his wife, even though she hardly recognizes him anymore. A lot is packed into this short story- family, freedom, the search for common ground, and over it all, love. Another fine read, and deserving of the nomination.

3) The Paper Menagerie  by Ken Liu

This story is another family tale, this time about a Chinese-American family. The mother here is a mail order bride, brought over to the US to marry a Chinese man in the suburbs. They have a son, and while he is small, his mother makes him origami animals. She is able to breathe life into them, and they become his favorite toys. As with many children, he eventually becomes aware that he and his family are "different." He begins to turn away from his mother, and by the time he is in high school, they have grown apart. He packs up his menagerie and forgets about them until his mother dies of cancer.

Yes, it's a little predictable, but the strength of the story lies in the characters, especially the mother. She is a driving force in the whole tale, even when she is not actively present. The writing is soft and flowing, fitting the more internal aspect of the story very well. It left me a bit misty. A nicely written, warm story.

4) Movement  by Nancy Fulda

This story is about autism, or more precisely, autism in the future. The point of view character is an autistic teenager who actually has only two lines of dialoque in the story. Her parents are considering an experimental procedure that would allow her to be more "normal" and fit in with the rest of society. It explores the question of what is normal, and how do we get to the place considered normal in our understanding of life. Hannah, the point of view character, sees her world in a completely different light than her parent or grandparents. But is she really just a mutation that needs fixing, or is she a stepping stone to something else?

Hannah is a dancer, although she dances for herself and not in a formal class. The writing flows like a dance- sometimes smooth and slow, sometimes fast and whirling, sometimes loud and unharmonic. It mimics Hannah's internal world, the world her parents can't see, and won't understand. This one will bring up questions, and leave you searching for the answers.
5) The Shadow War of the Night Dragons, Book One :The Dead City (excerpt)  by John Scalzi

What can I say about this one? It was Scalzi's April Fool's contribution and it is, in a word, amazing. How can you describe a story in which the first two paragraphs are exactly one sentence each (and they are real paragraph length!), and the first contains the word "black, " or variations of it, twelve times?

Written in the "style" of the best of the worst stories, it is funny, fascinating, and a joy to read. I'm not going to try to tell you what it's about- go, read it. You will laugh. You will laugh some more. And then you will laugh again.

Disguised as the announcement of a new series by the author, the story appeared on the website of Tor Books, complete with foil-accented cover image. Apparently, there are people who didn't get the joke. In a way, it is too bad that it WAS a joke. I would so buy this book. If only to find out just how dark that night (and the castle) were...

Monday, April 23, 2012

Road Trips and Other Adventures

I got the garden tilled this week. It took two days, but only because I forgot that the small upper section next to one of the raised beds needed tilling, also. And I had taken the tiller out of the garden and cleaned it before I realized it. Not really a problem, since the tiller is small and easy to carry, so I just went out later in the week and finished it up.

On Friday, the BaldMan took a day off and we went bike shopping. We decided we wanted recumbent tricycles. We were looking for the TerraTrike Rover, because they looked like a nice, comfortable alternative to a regular bicycle. The BaldMan wants to (eventually) start riding his in to work at least some of the time. Our first  stop was in CT, but the shop there had only one. At least we did get to try it out and decide that we did want these. So we got that one, and headed off to RI to another bike shop. We called them and they did have one there and said they would hold it for us. They were really nice. This one was going to be my bike and they spent a lot of time getting the boom adjusted  to the right length for me. Well, it actually turns out it probably could have been done a bit easier than all they went through, but they did put in the time and that was nice. The BaldMan had picked up a helmet and some accessories in CT, but we realized that for mine, we should  wait until we got back to NH to save the sales tax. Duh!  We stopped at Target and got me a helmet, lights, and water bottle holders for both bikes. Then we came home, and took them for a maiden voyage around the neighborhood. They really are fun to ride, and comfortable, also! No hard, butt-bruising bike seats! LOL

Saturday morning, we installed the drip irrigation lines in  the garden. It works nicely, and is going to be better, I think, overall. It will waste less water than a sprinkler, and allow the water to seep into the ground better. We may have to run more lines in some of the beds, but we have plenty of drip tape to do that. Just need to order more connectors. The BaldMan came up with a plan that puts valves in the tubing at strategic points so that I can turn  off the sections  that have nothing  currently planted. Again, less water wasted. It wasn't even  all  that expensive- about $100 for our  just a bit over 200 square  foot garden. The Drip Store. Now I just have to get the landscape fabric laid over the beds and we are ready to grow!

I have the tomatoes, peppers and a few other plants started on the stand in the kitchen. The asparagus I  planted last year is sprouting outside. Not enough to harvest this year, but I knew that was likely. It seems to be growing well.

After we finished in the garden, we went over to Derry and rode part of the Derry-Windham Rail Trail with the bikes. It's a nice ride- very pretty. The whole thing is about 7 miles; we did about 2 1/2, which was enough for the second day of biking!

After that, we went up to Manchester to Newberry Comics for Record Store Day. This year's deal was buy  one used CD, get a second for a dollar with a 5 disc limit. Usually, I have a hard time finding  stuff I want, but not this year. I had my 10 discs in no time. The BaldMan had more trouble this time.  I picked up some Elton John, Billy Joel, Bob Seeger, Foreigner, David  Bowie, Sarah McLachlan, and Josh Groban. And we got two DVD sets of Star Wars Episodes IV, V, and VI, one widescreen (for us) and one fullscreen (for grandson Will, who loves Star Wars). They only had one widescreen set, and we figured Will wouldn't really care. Finished the night with a nice, relaxing  dinner at Unwined.

Today is rainy. Which is fine, because it means a nice, quiet day indoors. The yard really needs the rain, also. It's been dry so far this Spring. We're supposed to get a few days of rain, so that should help. Of course, that means no bike riding for a few days, so I  guess it's back on the elliptical for now.

Wow, it's been a busy week! I think it will be good to have a few rainy days

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Scorpio RacesThe Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

On a small island in the British Isles, the locals are getting ready for the November races. Every year, riders team up with cappaill uisce, legendary water horses that are both bloodthirsty and beautiful. Sean Kendrick has won the races four times on his beloved red stallion, Cor. He is favored to win again. Puck Connolly lives on the island with her two brothers. Their parents were killed by the deadly cappaill horses and the children now face losing everything to the richest man on the island who holds the mortgage to their home. Oldest brother Gabe decides to move to the mainland to escape the island's memories. Puck, in a desperate attempt to save her family, enters the races with her land mare, Dove. She is the first woman ever to ride in the races and faces prejudice and hostility as she readies for the deadly contest.

It was not a bad book. A lot of it was very well done, and the prose generally flows well. The writing is lyrical and haunting at times. The characters are well drawn and have depth and emotion. The island and it's horse-centered life is often breathtaking in its scope, running from beauty and simple pleasures to greed, loss and death.

All that said, there were a few things that just didn't work for me. First, the story is told from the points of view of both Puck and Sean, in first person alternating chapters. The chapters (or parts of chapters) are labeled when the POV shifts, but I still found myself confusing the voices at times and having to stop to figure out the "he" and "she" references.

And then there were the caipall uisce. They are drawn from legends of the mythical kelpies, horses that live in the sea and rivers of Scotland and Ireland, and lure children to climb onto their backs after which they jump back into the water and drown their victim and eat them. The caippall uisce in the story appear to be normal horses on land, but larger and beautiful. My problem was that I couldn't get around the questions of how a horse breathes underwater, and how the caippall could swim as fast and strongly as they did. There is some vague indication that the caipall undergo a "change" in the water, but it is never clear and that bothered me. The author does provide and afterword that explains some of the legend, but the questions as I read the story kept me from really losing myself in it.

I was a bit disappointed in the ending as well. Not to give any spoilers, but I thought a different end would have strengthened the relationships that were being forged along the way. I suppose, however, given the target audience of the book, the ending was a good choice. It just left me a little less than satisfied. It seemed a little too "happy ever after" for me.

Despite the problems I had, I thought it was a good read. The basic story is well written, the characters are relatable, and the conflicts, both large and small, are realistic. The setting is haunting and enticing at the same time, much like the caipall uisce themselves. It's a good, worth reading YA novel.

View all my reviews

Monday, April 16, 2012

Weekends Are For...

Working! Around the house, anyway. On Saturday, we did a bunch of outdoor work. I cleaned up  the front foundation bed on one side, laid out the drip irrigation hose in a more reasonable pattern, and got it ready for some shrubs and plants to be added. This is only on  one side of the front. The other side is still in need of major work, but at least it looks neater. Then I went into the veggie garden, pulled up all the torn landscape fabric, laid out new fabric on the pathways, and raked and cleaned out the inground beds so that I can till them up. It looks much neater and ready for the new season now. I do need to get it tilled, though, because next weekend, we are most likely going to be laying the drip irrigation lines in there.

The BaldMan did the yearly maintenance on the tractor and took the snowblower off. I helped him get the mower attached onto it, and he mowed the front lawn, which was starting to look a bit ragged, even without a lot of rain.

We managed to get a rain barrel free from someone the BaldMan knows. We'll put gutters on the chicken coop/shed and collect the water there. Assuming, that is, we get any sort of significant rain. So far, this has been a weird  weather year.

Both of those projects took most of the afternoon and we were tired! But it's a good tired. We had a nice, relaxing dinner and just chilled for the evening.

Sunday, we were both a but sore, so we took things a bit easy. Did a few errands, some shopping at a local farm store where we got some venison stew meat, and a couple other things.

Other than that, it was a quiet weekend. How was yours?

Friday, April 13, 2012

A Bit of This, A Tad of That

Yes, I've been slacking on the posts here. Sorry. Been a busy little while. I'll try to get on track next week. Meanwhile, no review today. This is the post that should have gone up Monday.

Last Saturday was my birthday. I really don't mind birthdays, other than the fact that I have a hard time believing the math. According to my calculator (which I am sure must be broken), I am 57 this year. I don't disbelieve it because I don't want to be 57. I really don't worry so much about the numbers. It's just that I don't feel like I should be 57. Oh, I've got aches and pains, my knee protests far too much, and there's also all that gray hair... But, I don't know, 57 seems like it should be old, and I just don't feel old. So, therefore, something must be wrong with the math. Oh, well, I never did like math much anyway!

We went to dinner at Unum's in Nashua, NH on Friday night. Very nice, good food, lovely atmosphere. The BaldMan had a bouquet of flowers delivered there and it was waiting on our table. He's nice like that! There is a beautiful dark wood shelving unit along one wall that has decorative items as well as a large wine rack in it. We were sitting in front of it, and a guy (I think it may have been the owner. He was at least a manager) came over to get a bottle of wine, and stopped to talk for a moment. Of course, he asked about the flowers. After we ate, our waiter brought me a dish of vanilla ice cream with a candle in it. He lit the candle and set it down, saying: "You have to blow out a candle for your birthday!" Then he asked, "Do you embarass easily?" I said, no, not really. So he turned around and announced to the whole place that the "lady over here behind the pretty flowers" was having a birthday. I, of course, was not going to let him think he HAD embarassed me, so I waved my hands and said, "That would be me!" Everyone clapped and I got some "Happy Birthdays". It was nice.

I started with an Elderflower, a nice take on a cosmopolitan, with vodka, elderflower liquer, white cranberry juice and lime juice. Then we split a grilled hearts of romaine salad. I had seared foie gras with goat cheese, a fruit compote and toasted almonds. The sear on the foie was perfect. My entree was chicken carbonara, which was so creamy and delicious. It didn't have either pancetta or bacon, which are usually in carbonara, but it didn't need it. I know some would say "No bacon?!? Couldn't have beeen good!" But not everything needs bacon. I honestly did not miss it. There were sundried tomatoes, capers, cippolini onions and peas as well as chicken, all over penne pasta. I brought home enough for two lunches.

Saturday morning, we made our first run of the season to the town drop off center. We want to get the two empty rooms upstairs finished, but we've stuffed so much junk into them, it's impossible. Well, the one room isn't empty. Steph is using it, but she's hemmed in by extra furniture and a couple old mattresses. So we started with the smaller room, since that will eventually be a guest room. Once that is cleaned out and finished, she can move in there (and get her stuff out of storage). Then we can work on the bigger room, which will become the office area, and all the computers and such will move up there.

We also looked at the yard, and planned some big work out there. We are going to expand the deck and screen it in, so we can actually sit out there without getting eaten by mosquitoes. And put up bamboo fencing to keep the chickens corralled. The bamboo will just look so much nicer than most fencing, I think. It will also give me a nice spot on the outside of the fence (where chickens cannot get to it) for an herb garden.

I have gotten some reading done, and will have a review up next week. Promise!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Me by Me

Once again, I have not finished a book for this Friday's post, so I decided to review-- me! Last year, I decided I needed to do something about the *mumble murmur* extra pounds I've been carrying for a very long time. So, I got a Fitbit, a fancy little pedometer thingy, found a weight loss tracking program that works both on my phone and computer, and began using the elliptical again. It worked. I lost over 12 pounds. And then...

Well, the usual happened. I didn't feel like exercising one day, and that turned into two, and three. Eventually, I wasn't going up there at all. And then the eating went way off track. Now, we are not in any way, shape, or form low-fat or lean eaters. But I know from experience, that you can control what you eat even with butter, full fat cheese, and red meat. It's a matter of portion control. Smaller pieces of meat, more fresh veggies, less carbs. Oh, and that last one! "Hello, my name is Mary Alice and I am a carbaholic." Bread, pasta, potatoes, rice, crackers-- all of it is so very hard for me to stop eating. So here I am, at the beginning of the new year, and some of the weight has crept back. Not all, but too much. As of right now, I'd give myself 2 stars.

 I started being a bit more careful a few weeks ago, but I really mentally knuckled down and decided to get back on track starting this month. For the month of April, I will:

Not scarf down every carb in sight. This is going to be hard, but I've done it before.

Eat more fruit and fresh veggies. I know I don't get enough of those two, especially fruit, anyway.

Exercise more. Hey, I've got both an elliptical and a Bowflex sitting upstairs. Next weekend, we are going looking at bikes. No promises there, though. The BaldMan wants to get one and start (eventually) riding to work a few days a week, and he suggested I look at one so we can ride some rail trails or bike paths sometimes. I'm not sure, but I'm going to look and try one out.

Not drink alcohol. This one has always been important for me in losing weight. I can eat the not-so-low-fat diet we normally do and still lose weight (if I'm careful not to go overboard) but what I can't do is sit watching TV and have the beer. I used to not drink on weekdays and have a few on weekends, but all that did was have me lose a pound during the week and gain it back on the weekend. Not productive. So seltzer water and plain water for me. Oh, there will be times, I know. We are going out to dinner tonight for my birthday, and I will probably have a glass of wine, and most likely another one at Easter dinner. But for the most part, April is going to be alcohol free.

We'll see where that gets me by the end of the month.

Apologies to those who didn't want to know all this, but I feel that getting it out in (some sort of ) public will help keep me on track. I'll feel like everyone who reads this is watching me. If you are, poke me when I slip. Toss an extra slice of lime in my water when I do good, ok?

Monday, April 2, 2012

There and Back Again- Quickly

We got home just a few hours ago from a quick overnight trip to Bennington, VT. We met the BaldMan's parents and his sister and her husband (all coming from NY) for his Dad's 80th birthday dinner. Kryss, Kleber and Will came up also. Everyone except Kryss and family stayed overnight. It was a good time. We ate at the Madison Brewing Company () right in Bennington. And those who stayed over, stayed at the same motel where they put us in adjoining rooms. That was nice, as we could easily get everyone together to visit both before and after dinner. Both food and beer were good. They serve basic pub food. Several people had Shepherd's Pie, and a few had the sausage sampler plate. I had bangers and mash, because it's just not something you see around here very often. It was good, though I thought the "garlic" mashed potatoes lacked a bit in the garlic. Not that they weren't good, but I didn't get a lot of garlic flavor. The beer they brew is also pretty good. Everyone seemed to have a good time.

We took the scenic route home- drove down to Route 2 in MA and came across the Mohawk Trail. We haven't driven that way in a while. It's really pretty through the Berkshires. It was a nice little trip, but, as always, good to be home.

The weather got decidedly cold last week! What a change after the gorgeous warmth we'd had before. It did set the garden back a bit, though. The big orchards around here have been running fans at night to try and keep the air warmer around the trees and hoping that there isn't a lot of frost kill on the budding trees. And the warm weather before this cut the maple sugar season a bit short. Ski season is well over, also. And the rivers and creeks are way down right now, since there wasn't a lot of snow melt to feed them. We are getting a bit of rain today, but we are going to need a lot to make up or we are going to have drought issues later in the year, I fear. I think this was probably the good year to decide to put in drip irrigation for the garden, since that will help keep it watered and still be conservative with water.

Easter dinner next weekend is going to be a smaller one than usual. Easter is Krysta's birthday and since she is a big Boston Celtics fan, she got tickets for Sunday's game as a gift. So they will not be here. But Will and Nikki will be, as we are grandson and dog sitting while Kryss and Kleber go to the game. We'll have a good time, I'm sure. Of course, Auntie Steph may not be aware that she is sharing her bed with a four year old on Sunday night! Ah, well, sleepovers are fun, right?

The weather is supposed to improve this week. Although I did see "snow showers" for tomorrow, even though the high temp is supposed to be 51. I don't think we are going to get much snow! But then we are forecast for sun and warmer temps, so I may get some tilling done in the garden.

That's the plan, anyway. We'll see how it works out.